Teen’s website helps others grapple with a parent’s death

08/13/2014 12:00 AM

08/12/2014 2:06 PM

When Genevieve Liu lost her dad, pediatric surgeon Donald Liu, she immediately knew she needed to help other kids who suffered a similar loss.

Donald Liu drowned on Aug. 5, 2012, while successfully rescuing two boys from a undertow in Lake Michigan. Genevieve was 12 at the time.

Now Liu, 14, has launched SLAP’D: Surviving Life After a Parent Dies, a website for young people to find community in the wake of their tremendous loss.

I wrote about the site in December, when Liu was collecting ideas and working tirelessly – in between tennis practice and model United Nations meetings and a formidable academic load at University of Chicago Lab School – to build an online home for the questions and grief that she and her peers now grappled with.

“The mission is to let a lot of people who’ve lost a parent know they’re not alone and to gain strength from each other,” she told me in December. “I think there’s huge power through community.”

SLAP’D has now been up and running for two weeks. On it, experts answer questions like, “How does one explain death to younger siblings?” Children create tribute pages to the parents they’ve lost. Liu and others write essays about the moment they lost their mothers and fathers – and all the moments since.

“I hope there’s something there for everyone,” Liu says. “I just want people to feel supported and know that any question they ask I will make sure to get answered. I just want it to be helpful.”

She has studied the Google analytics and knows that people are logging on from Canada, New Zealand and China. People tell her the site is a huge comfort to them. She, in turn, draws comfort from helping.

Liu has also joined forces with Roosevelt University’s Hands Together, Heart to Art Camp, a summer camp where kids ages 7 to 14 who’ve lost a parent learn to express themselves through art. She’s delivering a keynote address to the campers and their families on Sunday.

“Working with them has been one of the greatest experiences,” she says. “I want SLAP’D to emulate them. I want to be a counselor there someday.”

She’s incredibly brave. Does she ever feel exposed, I wondered, writing about her grief and her healing for others to read?

“A lot of people tell me, ‘You’re so strong,’ ” she says. “To be honest, I don’t feel like I’m that strong. It feels like it’s someone else’s story in some ways – like my father never died. So when I’m talking about it, I don’t feel exposed. But when I actually think about what I’m going through and what I’m feeling, I suppose I do feel a bit exposed. It’s both feelings at once.

“But the support I get from people – it’s not like it’s validation, necessarily. But when I hear people say, ‘I wish I had this when my parent died,’ or, ‘What you’re doing is great,’ then I know it’s the right thing to do.”

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